PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Around the country, police departments are under fire with activists calling for their defunding and dismantling.
Here in Pittsburgh, one city council member is introducing legislation of his own to curb police power and resources.
He spoke exclusively to KDKA Investigator Andy Sheehan.
Councilman Ricky Burgess represents the Homewood and East Liberty communities. He is not calling for the out and out defunding of police, but wants a pause in hiring and a redirection of the police budget.
In Minneapolis and across the country, there is a new rallying cry in the wake of George Floyd’s death: defund the police. Protesters are calling for a dismantling of traditional law enforcement.
“There’s obviously a crisis of confidence again that comes through this institutional racism and national police violence,” says Burgess.
Burgess is introducing legislation to immediately freeze police hiring and divert 10 percent of the police bureau’s budget into social and violence prevention programs. Both measures would reduce the current number of officers.
“The best way to make the community safer is not by increasing the number of police but rather by increasing the confidence of the community so they will partner with police and public safety. That is the way to make the city safer,” says Burgess.
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Burgess’ legislation would also strip the police of military and riot gear, which he says would make them a less threatening presence in the community.
“This is the Pittsburgh police and not the 3rd Infantry. We do not need them in tanks and army surplus fatigues,” says Burgess.
In recent years, Pittsburgh police have enacted a series of reforms including community police with officers walking the beat, implicit bias training to dispel hidden prejudice and deescalation training to diffuse potentially violent encounters like traffic stops. Burgess notes these measures and is not calling for a full defunding of police.
“We still need the police to do things. There’s still crime in our city, there’s still crime and in our country. I believe the police serve a vital role. We just have to make sure they’re doing that role with the most professionalism,” says Burgess.
Neither the mayor’s office or the police union would comment on this proposal. They are engaged in their own verbal battle over police handling of the protests. City Council will begin discussions on Burgess’s proposal tomorrow.